Section of Township Map of Franklin County, North Carolina, by William N. Fuller (ca. 1868), showing the area between Lynches Creek and the Hayesville Road, where Thomas Blacknall lived. Courtesy of North Carolina Maps (http://www2.lib.unc.edu/dc/ncmaps/).
In April of 1820, James Houze, the owner of a substantial farm on Lynch Creek in Franklin County, traveled to Louisburg on an unusual mission: to free his slave Thomas. He did this in recognition of Thomas's complete honesty and solid work ethic. Houze believed that his slave would become a productive citizen. Future events proved him to be correct in his assessment.
Probably on April 13, 1820, Houze presented to the judge of the Superior Court of Franklin County a petition requesting that Thomas be freed. According to the document, Thomas had until recently belonged to William Blacknall.
For many years, Thomas had operated a blacksmith shop in Houze's neighborhood and carried out his work to the complete satisfaction of his master and of his many customers. He managed the accounts himself, and his owner even allowed him the "liberty of trading and acquiring property."
Houze stated that it had long been Blacknall's intention to free Thomas, and that he had reiterated this desire on his death bed. Houze explained in the petition that he had acquired title to Thomas from "representatives" of Blacknall, with a view toward liberating him.
During his court appearance, Houze and his "security," James Yarbrough, posted a bond of one-hundred pounds, as required by statute. The court agreed to the petition. Thus the trustworthy slave, at the age of approximately forty-two, became a free man named Thomas Blacknall.
He joined the ranks of some 158 other free persons of color in Franklin County.
Blacknall soon acquired significant property of his own. With the help of Houze, in 1823 he paid George Blacknall $700 for 175 acres of land on the Granville Road. By 1830, Blacknall owned seven slaves.
In a deed recorded in 1844 but apparently initiated in 1836, the former slave paid Robert K. Smith of Chatham County $350 for 143 acres on Lynch Creek (then named Lynches Creek), adjoining the property he already owned.
At the time of the 1850 census, Thomas, then seventy-two, and his wife Patsy, fifty-three, lived on their farm with several of their children. They grew wheat, corn, oats, and a variety of vegetables, and owned horses, cattle, oxen, sheep, and swine. Three slaves, all fifty or older, provided labor.
Ten years later, with real estate valued at $6,000 and a personal estate of $1,300, Blacknall decided that it was time to make a will. He bequeathed to Patsy for her lifetime all of his land (some 654 acres), including his "tool tract," as well as the household furniture, farm animals, and agricultural implements.
His son Gabriel was to receive Blacknall's blacksmith tools, a horse of his choice, a few other farm animals, and, after his mother's death, slaves Starlin and Charles.
Blacknall specified how his land was to be divided after his wife's death. Grandson Tom Dunce was to receive fifteen acres on the west side of his house tract near Lynch Creek and to hold it as a home for his mother, Harriet Dunce, during her lifetime.
Gabriel was to receive one-third of the remaining land, and daughters Becky and Peggy were to gain control of the remaining two-thirds during their lifetimes. Thereafter, their children were to inherit their shares. Mary Fogg and her heirs inherited a slave named Bob. Blacknall signed the will with an "x."
According to Blacknall's extensive estate records in the North Carolina State Archives, he died in April of 1864, but the estate was not settled until many years later. His daughters Rebecca Mayo and Peggy Hawkins were among the petitioners involved in 1888, when the court directed William N. Fuller, a local surveyor, to prepare a survey of their father's extensive landholdings.
Thomas Blacknall's many decades of hard work had provided an impressive legacy for his family.
Published in The Franklin Times on August 7, 2014.
Maury York is director of the Tar River Center for History and Culture at Louisburg College. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.